Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bee Keeping 101 (Part 3)

Did you catch Part 1 and Part 2?

Are you excited yet? I know I am! Now let's start digging into what you need to purchase and know to start a hive (or 2). Morrell recommends starting with 2 hives so you have them for comparison and also have one as a back-up in case one hive does not make it through the winter (you can always split the surviving hive in the spring, more on that later!).

Anatomy of a Hive

There are many layers to a hive. Some keepers choose to paint each layer a different color but they can essentially be painted any light color that you want. 

The hive should be at least one foot off the ground (on a wooden box or cinder blocks) to prevent skunks from eating the bees (or at least allow for the skunks underbelly to be exposed so they can sting in defense. 

The first layer is the bottom board which can have a screen and slide out door to allow for more ventilation in the summer and protect the bees from the cold in the winter.

On top of that is a landing board (optional). This provides a slanted place for the bees to land as they enter and exit the hive.

Next come the brood boxes in 3 sizes: deep, medium or shallow. It is important to think about the amount of weight you can lift when choosing the size as when they are full of bees and honey they are very heavy. 

The first year will start with one brood box. Once the bees have filled it a second should be added. Then the following spring, add a queen excluder (to keep the queen from laying eggs where the honey is) and add one honey super at a time once the current box is full of honey.

Spacers can be added to the honey supers to allow for less frames but then the bees will build more honey on each frame. Frames can be wooden or plastic. Plastic frames are less likely to harbor illnesses. Wooden frames can have a plastic base for them to build the honeycomb off of. To help them acclimate, put some melted wax or spray sugar water on the plastic.

Then there is an inner cover that is one piece of wood with a hole in the middle that allows moisture to ventilate out of the hive (the bees create quite a lot of humidity). Finally there is a wooden lid on top.

Optional- Once the hive has quite a few honey supers, you may want to add a 1” hole towards the top so the foraging bees do not have to go through the whole hive to get in and out. Then for the winter this can be plugged with a wine cork.

Buying Used Equipment

Best to buy from someone you trust that you know is free from diseases. 

Old boxes are typically alright but use new frames. 

If you are concerned about diseases, scrub with bleach water and take a blow torch to the inside.

Placement of the Hive

There are no minimum land requirements to keep bees. Many people in cities are starting to keep hives on their roofs!

The hive’s opening should face southeast to provide for early morning sunshine/warmth to awaken the bees and allow for the most pollen/nectar gathering for the day. Ideally it is best to have some shade during the heat of the summer afternoon and sunshine again towards the end of the day. If this is not possible, full sun (with hive painted white) is better than full shade.

It is also beneficial to have some protection on the west side for the winter to protect from wind (this could be as simple as stacked straw bales). The national average is for a 30% loss of bees and often this occurs during the winter if there is too long of a stretch of cold without a warmer day above 45 degrees.

Bees can become agitated by the sound of a lawn mower and/or weed whacker. It is best to have some form of weed barrier around the hive so you do not have to use them too close to the hive. 

You should also never approach the hive from the front but from the side or back. Remember the guard bees from part 2? Yeah, they'll be watching!

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